The importance John Calvin gives to “hearing” the gospel seems more than slightly overdone: “. . .the door of salvation is opened to us when we receive the gospel today with our ears,” he says in the Institutes, as if the good news coming in any other way would be untrustworthy.
Slightly over the top, methinks. To limit the gospel simply to that which can be heard from a pulpit is silly. Nevertheless, the sermon--in my Calvinist tradition at least--has become something almost sacred. And what we come to treasure deeply, more deeply than almost anything, that we begin to view as sacred.
When people mess with those things, something in us gets violated, we feel we've been "done wrong." Want to understand "the worship wars" in almost all forms of contemporary evangelicalism?--all you need to understand is what people hold as sacred. When that gets banged around, there's going to be trouble.
Last night we didn't get a sermon. Instead, we got a short anthology of essays, and both my wife and I left the church, well, less than satisfied. Was what happened there somehow wrong?--of course not. It's just that our sense of sermon--maybe even our sacred sense of sermon--got violated.
Hey, it's not hard to be puny.
Nobody's mad. I'm sure we'll go back again next week, having forgotten. It was no big deal.
But our being irked just showed me anew how you can't mess with somebody's sense of the sacred without taking a hit or two.
This much we know: when a sermon hits home, the gospel’s message is spoken in scarlet; and we leave our church far, far more often than not, dressed in glorious red robes. For that, I'm always thankful.
I’ll admit it--I don't always share King David's ecstatic love for the temple. The social business--and a ton of "church" is, in fact, social business--is often, to me, something of a burden.
Don't lecture me either. I know I'm wrong about that.
But when the Word of the Lord breathes life, as it does most often--morning and night--in our little church, then I’m on board with Calvin: “. . .the door of salvation is opened to us when we receive the gospel today with our ears."
Then, I'm all ears.